Jeffrey here. Joey will be silent today and tomorrow.
Today I pedaled Joey 72 miles up and down the Hudson River waterfront, to see the sights, to think, and to push our mileage over 1,000. Which we did. We parked the Sprint 26 at 1,001 miles. I’m sorry that I wasn’t up to my target 1,300 miles in this, the Year of the Shattered Leg. I did what I could do. (I was foiled once before, on my 1,400 mile Ride to Iowa, when the bike’s wheel broke in Postville at mile 1,216.)
We were uptown and downtown.
The George Washington Bridge, morning . . .
. . . and evening.
One World Trade Center, known as the Freedom Tower . . . as during World War I, sauerkraut was known as “liberty cabbage” and during the latest Iraq War, French fries were known as “freedom fries” (silly, silly, and silly) . . . morning . . .
. . . and evening.
This afternoon, I met Adnan, a Web designer, who is planning a cross-country bicycle trip and asked about our equipment and experience.
I hope his adventure is as enriching as each of ours has been.
As I pedaled for hours through NYC’s barely controlled traffic chaos, I thought of the emptiness of words. Laws regulate cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers, but laws are meaningless when they are not enforced: hence the chaos.
The word “freedom” has become hollow. The “Freedom Tower” is 1776 feet tall. The number, the year, is symbolic of U.S. independence. But of freedom? The Founders of 1776 and their 1789 Constitution carefully denied freedom to slaves and ignored the oppression of women.
Things have improved in America. In some ways they have improved a lot. But some individuals and groups still are deliberately denied even the pretense of freedom.
American prisoners – convicts and those merely accused who can’t make bail – are not rehabilitated, but broken. How can a society be “free” if it holds a person in solitary confinement for 43 years, even moreso when that person was wrongly convicted (Albert Woodfox in Louisiana); or holds a presumed-innocent never-tried 16-year-old for 3 years, nearly 2 of those years in solitary confinement (Kalief Browder, who never recovered from the abuse and hanged himself last weekend in New York)? Even rightly convicted criminals never really finish their sentences; their record follows them for life. No other Western country imposes such harsh punishments, and is so unforgiving of ordinary convicts (politicians seem to get a pass!), as the USA.
We deny freedom to foreigners too. For the breaking of many of our complex and technical immigration rules, there is no statute of limitations and no forgiveness. People who have been part of our community for years, for decades, live in fear of discovery and banishment. Refugees have to fit into narrow categories to be given relief. And as you know, asylum applicants are entirely on their own, entitled to a lawyer’s help in navigating the complex immigration system only “at no expense to the government.”
NYC has every good thing. Manhattan is, as Russell Shorto called it, the Island at the Center of the World. Here’s tonight’s sunset (not the most colorful, so I’ll show you another too), seen from the Manhattan side of the Hudson as I paused on the Hudson River Greenway.
Yet our wonderful NYC is capable, in 2015, in its official capacity, of crushing a kid like Kalief Browder. To death.
Freedom? I don’t know what it is, nor for whom.
Maybe we could do with a little less self-congratulation and a little more kindness. Maybe 1 World Trade Center should be nicknamed the Fairness Tower. Respect Tower. Justice Tower. Something.
If you can define “freedom”, teach me. Then let’s work together to spread it around.
Tomorrow I’ll wrap up this year’s Ride.